Z Holly is an investor at Good Growth Capital, but her LinkedIn would tell you that she’s an instigator. Good growth just raised a hundred million dollar Fund III to invest in deep tech and transformative science. Z knows a lot about deep tech and transformative science from her roles at MIT and USC, where she was vice provost for innovation. Z, instigator is such a perfect word.
I was going to call you a builder, but instigator is really good.
You created the first TedX. You built a non-profit to support Los Angeles manufacturing. And I just listen to someone describe your life as a Mountain Dew commercial.
Yeah, I have so many things I want to talk to you about. And you created a podcast. Yes. Love podcasting. Yeah. No, I want to talk to you about podcasting, too, but maybe I will start with Good Growth Capital.
Yeah. Yeah. I’m really excited to have just formally joined the firm. I’ve been working with them for a while now and they’re just amazing, rockstar, venture firm based on the East Coast that folks on the West Coast really haven’t heard of before.
A lot of them. But we’re really well known for our ability to evaluate and support and invest in early stage transformative science and engineering companies. A lot of stuff’s spinning out of universities.
And what I especially love is our ability to kind of tap this amazing network across the country, so across disciplines, across industries, and really support the companies at a very early stage which a lot of these deep tech startups really need that kind of hands on attention.
What’s a typical sort of tech startup for you guys, like typical space areas?
So we do a lot of medtech, we do a lot of materials and sustainability and data science across. You know, that’s the very much a crosscutting theme across them.
But, you know, anything from like plastics that can be programmed to biodegrade on a certain timeframe or fuel stations and space or battery technology, you know, or like new devices for medicine. So that’s the kind of stuff that we do.
Got it. And so you guys will be the seed, series A investors supporting these these technology, transformative tech companies. Yeah, we have to fund families, actually.
So, in general fund does seed, series A. And then we also have this other fund family called the Infinite Corridor Fund. And that’s more of like a feeder sourcing fund precede seed. That is more like one hundred to $300k check size. Sometimes we will even go down to ten, twenty thousand if it’s just for a patent, you know, you know, really, really early stage with with a heavy emphasis on MIT startups.
But anything that’s really transformative science very early.
It’s so perfect for your background. So make sure I got this right. You were the founding executive director at USC Stevens Institute for Innovation and the founding executive director for the MIT Deshpande Center for Innovation.
Yes, yes. And I was recruited by USC from M.I.T. to be the vice provost for innovation back in 2006. And so, among other things, oversaw to transfer and developed a bunch of different programs for student entrepreneurs, faculty, entrepreneurs, innovation across all disciplines. That’s the thing that I was probably most proud of, is to rethink what university innovation looks like, because I think a lot of people think of it as like just commercializing lab technology. And one example of that was working with the TED conference to create the first ever TED event, because it was really a way of like, how do you know, ideas?
You know, how do you were spreading? So how do you take an idea and how to make a broad impact with that idea?
Oh, that’s a fascinating. OK, so let’s stay on that for a second. You’re known for being the person who created the first Ted X.
Mm hmm. So tell me, how did that idea come about? And was the idea similar to what I now think of as Ted?
Yeah, but I think it scaled beyond our wildest imagination. I mean, it’s just, you know, and I think it’s a great example of what I call crowd scaling. The idea is that you not crowdsourcing, but you have an idea and you you design it in such a way that you give enough degrees of freedom for, you know, people to run with it and at the same time be true to your brand and what you believe in. So we approached TED with this idea.
I’m sure that we weren’t the first to approach TED, to say, hey, we want to do our own TED.
But we we said that we wanted to create something that was replicable. So they really like the idea and especially the fact that I oversaw the tech transfer office, too.
So we really understood licensing. So we helped work through the licensing model for something like that. And yeah, it was March 23, 2009, the first ever TEDX event.
And I’ll never forget when those but the the curtains were drawn and it started. And so that first Ted X was a USC. It’s sort of it was at USC tactlessly. Yeah. Most people don’t realize that TEDX started in L.A.. Got it.
No, I had no idea.
So one thing I think about is sort of what are the fundamental structures, levers that hold back university innovation?
And I’m curious your thoughts on it.
One of mine is just sort of the incentive structure for professors is to publish more than it is to innovate, I guess.
I think that some of the fundamental things that need to change are more the role models, and I think that it’s already been changing and sometimes it’s changing to the negative. So it’s a little bit of a nuanced answer. Right. But there have been studies that looked at what cause faculty to commercialize their innovation. And across all of the different parameters, like like nothing made a difference, like just nothing except for one thing. It was actually it. Sorry, I shouldn’t say commercializing patenting.
So that’s a first step when it comes to technological commercialization. Right. The one thing that made a big difference was whether the dean or the department head had patents.
Hmm. So it sends a signal, right, that this is something that’s not only OK, but it’s something that’s really worthwhile doing and then that sort of flows down into the culture of the of the organization. The other thing that I think a lot of people miss, and maybe this is too wonky, but I’ll mention it is really strong conflict of interest policies because I’m a I’m a big believer in academia. I love academia. And I really feel like it needs to be.
The reputation of academia needs to be protected, and some people think that you can’t commercialize without creating a conflict of interest. And really what happens is the conflict of interest needs to be managed because you don’t want is you don’t want to have a professor, for example, who developed this new drug, you know, candidate or some, you know, concept that they want to commercialize. And then they’re the ones that are doing the clinical trials, because obviously then even if they don’t mean to, there’s at least a perception of conflict of interest that you want the clinical trials to say that this is working because there’s a lot of money on the line.
So whether or not there is a conflict of interest, a perception of conflict of interest is just as bad.
So having really strong conflict of interest policies make it possible to push against them. And when I first came to USC, there weren’t strong conflict of interest policies. So by but pulling it up into the forefront and go like, this is what you can do and this is what happens if you have a startup you want to do, you have to bring it to the conflict of interest committee and you have to make sure that that policy is clear and streamlined.
Interesting. I mean, is there anything else waving your magic wand that you think the universities could be doing in the L.A. to to just be more integrated with the Southern California innovation community?
Well, I’m really thrilled that the Alliance for Social Innovation has taken on FirstLook because the idea is that you you do it as a community, that that you celebrate as opposed to compete. People would say like, wait a minute, you’re at USC, aren’t you competing against UCLA? And of course, I came from Boston. So for me, like I’m coming to L.A., I love L.A. It’s my hometown. Like for me, the competition is not UCLA, it’s Stanford or it’s other places.
Right. So, I mean, I don’t even want to be competitive that way. But that was the big thing is create that ecosystem so we can support. And I think in particular, there is so much research happening in Southern California, like over three billion dollars worth of research happening in the top research universities alone, let alone in the hospitals, et cetera. That and a large part of that is in biotech. And unfortunately, L.A. is seen as a flyover city when it comes to biotech.
So San Diego and the Bay Area are really strong.
But the truth is that we we actually in in Southern California, we create more patents. The universities create as many patents as Boston, the Boston area, and way more than the Bay Area.
There’s so much going on here. We need that. We need a lot of like the wet lab space and a lot of support around, especially biotech, because I think that’s a super untapped opportunity.
OK, changing a little bit. But you taught did you teach innovation or entrepreneurship or something like that at USC?
Did you come up with your own curriculum? Yeah.
Not only were students appreciated my curriculum, but I what will what were the things where you’re like, I want you to walk away with these two ideas.
What was some of the the ones that did work?
Wel I wanted to impress upon the students that innovation is not about creating ideas like that’s like the one percent of the innovation process. What you need to do is you need to beyond the inspiration, the idea, ideation. You’ve got to iterate, iterate, and then you need to figure out how to make that impact.
So kind of prepare society for your idea.
So it’s. I like to think of it as like innovation is the process of turning the crazy into the inevitable.
And I wanted them to feel it. So I wanted them to feel so instead of like coming up with a business plan. I said, let’s come up with simpler ideas. So they may have been social experiments, for example, but we wanted them to iterate on that social experiment. We wanted them to create social change, some sort of a change.
I think Bill Gross, Arnav from Idealab, he said that if he renamed it I mean, maybe tongue in cheek, he said he’d rename it Iterate Lab.
I’m curious about your ideas for what stands in people’s way from actually being innovative. Well, that’s a big question mark.
I think that people’s mistake is to focus on passion rather than curiosity. So I think that passion is what you know, and curiosity is what you don’t know. And innovation happens when you focus on what you don’t know, because if you know it, everyone else probably knows it, too.
I don’t think that innovation and entrepreneurship are concentric circles.
Right. I think that there are overlapping circles. So entrepreneurship is one way to innovate and innovation is one form of entrepreneurship. I mean, you could have you could start a. You could start a dry cleaning business, perfectly great business, not innovative at all, and that’s fine.
So, yeah, well, yeah, OK, so I agree with that and I’m actually OK, so I feel like I don’t know you super well, but I feel like a lot of your motivation comes from OK here.
I know. I know.
But now super we’re getting into the psychoanalysis.
But I feel like a lot of it comes from you do want to effect that change in the world, like you want to take what you’re an instigator.
Right. And do you want to see this change in the world? But then why? What’s your relationship with venture capital. I think that one of the greatest things about being in venture capital is having capital to deploy. So I think that the and I don’t want it to be the only thing I do. It is the majority of my time right now. But I but I think that the. The way I bring the most value to what I do as a VC is by doing other things too, so by doing some consulting and advising and right now working on a crazy project for the L.A. River, which we can talk about if you want.
And I’d love to. And, you know, just doing doing the podcast, for example, and, you know, having worked in government and I was an adviser for, you know, the Obama administration and for the World Economic Forum. And through that, you develop these incredible networks. And so I think that. Following your. Follow your curiosity, I like to like find things that are at the edges and at the intersections, you know, and I think that through that I have perspectives that I can bring to the investing.
Now, the question is like how you capture that value is harder when you’re in the flow rather than like the old way of thinking about things is people own IP, like they own the ideas. And it’s very like you build these walls. That is not the way innovation happens today anymore. Very dynamic. And there’s this flow of talent, flow of ideas, and it’s harder to capture that that flow.
But that’s where it’s important to be as an innovator is in the flow, not owning, but being in the flow.
So Hamet Watt was on the podcast? Yeah.
He said that, you know, there have been a number of studies on what makes someone like prolifically innovative or what makes them an innovative. And there are two main things were being prolific and and that intersectionality, for lack of a better word. Yeah. Combining different fields. And so you’re saying it’s important to to follow those threads?
Yeah, absolutely. And I think that I really I think a lot of what he said, I heard that episode and I and a lot of what he said really resonated with me. And I think that he talked about curiosity, too. And he also talked about resilience. Right. And I think those are really resilience is another incredibly important part.
There’s so many so many paradoxes in entrepreneurship. I mean, one of them is the curiosity, will you need to focus when you are an entrepreneur? Right. So that’s a difference between. Being an entrepreneur and being like starting a company and then being between gigs as an entrepreneur and a friend of mine once described this to me as. Entrepreneurs are like like wildcats, like tigers in the wild, because, like most of the time, they’re just hanging around kind of sleeping there.
They’re like storing up the energy to do their next kill.
And so it’s OK during that time between the kill, which is at the startup, is to be thinking about the next thing and making those connections. And, you know, when I was driving cross-country, I was thinking last month I was thinking about like all the rows of corn versus the beans.
It’s like rotating your crops, like between the actually growing the corn, like you need to to put the nitrogen back in the soil and just start thinking.
And that’s where the connections happen.
But make sure that once you’re doing the startup, you got to be 100 percent focused.
OK, so resilience being part of this. Yeah. Um.
I know that your parachute did not deploy once and that you still kept skydiving after that.
Well, there you go. You said the punchline. Yeah. No, no, no, no, I totally didn’t.
There’s so much more. I know what happens when your parachute doesn’t deploy.
Yeah, so technically, what happens? Like, what are you asking, what do you do know? So.
So everyone has a so everyone has a reserve. So what happens is that you practice over and over again so that if your parachute does not deploy and you have to do two things, one of you have to cut away the old parachute because it’s just not because it may be like in my case, I just was spinning like crazy. And I just like what’s going on for the longest.
Ten seconds of my life, 10 seconds really in seconds.
And I know it’s ten seconds because my instructor had to happen to look up with a GoPro because she’s not she’s like she’s still falling. And then she deploys her parachute. So she looks up and looks at me and she’s like, You hear her go, huh?
Oh, as she sees my parachute get cut away and just sort of drift away and then she’s waiting and then boom, this like the green one goes away and then boom, the red reserve just opens up and she’s like, oh, thank God.
So, OK, so you have to deploy your second parachute while you’re free, falling and cutting away this other parachute.
Like like you literally have another maybe ten seconds. Like you do not have a lot of time.
Yeah, but. And does that build resilience or. Well yeah.
So I think that that, that taught me something really interesting because I think I think we have failure all wrong. Right. I think that sure. Like you can learn from mistakes.
I think you can also learn from other people’s mistakes, like better. You don’t have to have that experience to learn how to deal with it. I mean, you do a lot of practice before you actually have a reserve ride. And what happened was so because my instructor, you know, falls faster and then gets down like everyone at the drop zone had heard what happened by the time I kind of like real up in the truck and everyone’s coming up to me going, oh, my God, you’re so lucky.
I heard you had a reserve ride and you’re I’m lucky.
What are you talking about? I almost died. It was quite thrilling. But at that point, I was like, ready to throw up. I look so sick to my stomach.
And they said, oh, my God. Several people said, I’ve had a thousand jumps and I have not had a malfunction and I do not know if I could survive. So you now know you can survive.
So I think part of the key to resilience is having been through some rocky times and it’s not the failure, it’s the getting back up that gives you that resilience and that confidence.
Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah, I know. Because, you know you know, so many times you’re sick to your stomach.
You’re like, I don’t want to do this thing. I had to fire people. They scared the shit out of me. And then you’re like, oh, I know. I’ve done I’ve gone to a RIF before. I’ve done that sort of thing. But that means that the way you build resilience is just by having this horrible, horrible, depressing, whatever. Sad.
I know. Well, hopefully, hopefully you do it smaller. And that’s the whole idea of iteration, right. Is that you you know, like imagine being in Apollo, an engineer on Apollo and you don’t really know if it’s going to work for ten years, you know, or right now the James Webb Space Telescope, which is being assembled right now in Southern California, and it’s like this multi, multi, multi billion dollar project that has delays, you know, budget increases.
All eyes are on them. They’ve had to testify before Congress about it. I actually had them on my podcast and we talked about how do you iterate on something that’s so complicated? And there are ways. There are ways.
OK, Z and I both ran off to do other things, but now we’re back.
So I’d love to talk about a couple of these other endeavors of yours that are hopefully feeding your brain or have fed your brain disease. You ran a nonprofit focused on manufacturing in L.A..
I did. Why did you do that?
Mayor Garcetti had reached out and asked, you know, it’s like I’d like to start something kind of along the lines of what you’ve done at MIT, USC.
You know, how do we have better interface between government and the entrepreneurial community. And so he had this idea of an EIR program, which, of course, in venture that’s pretty common. You know, you have year EIRs come in and and kind of keep their eyes open for things and and opportunities.
And I said, yes, I would do that, but only if I could focus on an area that was untapped. Well, it turns out most people don’t know this, but manufacturing is L.A. is the largest manufacturing center in the country.
I had Eric Pakravan on the show and his dad is a button manufacturer or was a button manufacturer.
Is it mostly apparel or what?
What can you tell me about manufacturing and how what it looks like in L.A.? It’s incredibly diverse. So, yes, apparel is huge and so is aerospace and there’s a lot of advanced manufacturing innovations.
I mean, obviously things like. And plus, of course, the large companies here are the established defense contractors.
And so L.A. has been the center for that. So there’s that there’s there’s chemicals, there’s food and beverage is huge. And also just industrial transportation is big Hyperloop. I mean, there just a lot of really cool stuff.
Can you give me maybe a little bit of a tangent, but if I want to start a food and beverage company.
In food specifically, it’s called a Copac. So you would work with a company that specializes and they have the facilities to do that. And they’re very specialized facilities and equipment for different kinds of food, beverage, et cetera. Then, of course, the packaging, all that. And then, you know, basically you put your brand on it and it’s it’s actually I’m not an expert in this, but I, I learn a lot in the process.
So because we have this program where we were supporting these startups that were which had this grant to help help startups, we had 16 startups and our program was like an accelerator and many of them were food, beverage.
And it’s really hard to develop a recipe that scales.
It’s it’s so that was something that I learned. Yeah. So like, for sure, if you’re I mean, in the same way that if you’re designing a something like a a box, like there’s the low scale way of doing it where you just like you could three print it, for example, you know, everyone talks about 3D printing. Well, you’re not going to just 3D print four million. So once you get to the next level in food, same thing.
There’s different ways that you have to formulate stuff.
Total tangent. If I wanted to go visit some cool manufacturing, is there anything is there a good field trip that I should know about? We actually created this thing called Maker Walk, which was these makers and manufacturers and startups, everything from they open their doors, you know, for tours. And so it’s kind of like an art walk. But it’s Maker Wall. And it was in the arts district with everything from custom furniture company to a lumber mill.
So we love this. So it’s so it’s like open studios.
Exactly. For manufacturers and mirrors. Oh, that is so cool when it comes back.
And was this an actual did you create a 501c3 three for this.
Yeah, it’s called Make It in L.A. So you’re going to L.A. dot org and sort of had you know, it’s primarily we created all these resources to put on the Web sites, all the stuff we’ve learned through helping entrepreneurs, et cetera.
Lots of videos on how do you how do you start a business where you make things? It’s not as easy as just kind of using AWS and your code and your ready to go. Right.
And you have this amazing podcast. It’s another great resource, the Art of Manufacturing podcast. Right?
Yeah. So that was a lot of fun.
Your podcast is really good.
It actually made me like, oh man, I need to do more with mine. Did your style change a lot from season one to season three?
I don’t think so. I think that I just got into a swing. So it’s just you have a system for finding the folks. I have to say to like I I’m a bit of a perfectionist. So it was hard to release the first episodes, right. Like that. My whole identity and my whole ego was wrapped up in it.
And you’re just like, OK, I hope people like it. And then you start getting tweets, you start getting some messages.
No, I mean, I totally agree. And I it I always feel bad if I don’t do my guests justice or something. Do you feel like it’s driven a lot by you, whether it comes out as like an interesting episode, or do you think it’s a lot about just whether your guest tells good stories? Oh, yeah.
I mean. Each episode is so different and each one is such a journey, and I think that I’ve had a few that were kind of snoozers and it was like, oh, man, what do I do with this? And so
And I tend to find that when there’s two people, it actually kind of clicks better generally.
And I also I find a way harder when David co-hosts.
Do you think you’ve gotten better at asking good questions? Uh, I hope so. I think. Yeah, I don’t know, I think a lot of it the most important thing is not the questions, but it’s the listening. Oh, it’s so hard.
I mean, it is really true to have good questions, but I think the key is not to have them all scripted out in advance.
Yeah. Oh, that’s so true.
OK, so I will I will move on into other things. OK, so manufacturing was kind of of the past, as you said a year ago. And now the L.A. River has been a big focus of yours recently. I know.
Just give me the basics of the L.A. River. OK, so there’s the L.A. River, which a lot of folks. You know, when I first started working on the L.A. River, people like L.A. has a river.
And so I’ve been involved in an organization called the River L.A. and the River L.A. The whole goal is to integrate design and infrastructure, to connect the communities and the people and the environment along the river.
So it’s really meant to tap into all the different opportunities for the community around the river.
If you think about one, a quarter of all Californians live within an hour drive of the L.A. River. It’s it’s incredible.
And so we how are we supposed to connect with the river? Please tell me.
Yeah, well, we just literally today launched Rio Reveals.
So basically, we’re hiring these amazing artists from across all the different cultures in L.A. to create these both in-person and online experiences like adventures I would encourage anyone that’s interested to go to Rio, reveals Dotcom.
That’s OK if I do a little plug. But like on an ordinary basis, like, can you go hang out at the river or have a picnic by the river?
Well, yeah, so a lot of people don’t realize that there are certain parts of it that have natural bottom. So like Atwater Village area and kind Frogtown, that area, and then also by Balboa Park in the Valley. So those have some natural bottom areas. You can do kayaking like honestly, like if you kayaking along, you would not realize that you’re in the middle of a city. So Los Angeles manufacturing, the L.A. River, Rio reveals you said.
So tell me about L.A. I mean, you and I both grew up in L.A., so I know it’s kind of weird to be back.
And then I love the diversity, just the arts, the culture.
I mean, we can never do anything.
I could have never done anything like Rio reveals in Boston, right, like it would not happen. So I just love living at the intersections of things. I mean I went to a private school in Bel Air.
I was a Westlake before all girls school, before it was Harvard Westlake which dates me. But and yeah, I did not fit in at all. And I, I was I had my friends but they were not kind of the I didn’t fit into this typical. I don’t know. How about you. Like who did you hang out with in high school.
No, I mean I was the same thing, private school here in Pasadena, but I just was very sheltered from it all.
But I just was like, I want to get out of L.A. because I was afraid I’d be to wasn’t like blonde and cheerleader enough for L.A.
OK. So before I wrap up, anything else, is good growth capital? Do you guys call yourselves GGC? No good. No, I don’t. I don’t like acronyms, but that’s my thing. I think that they’re what?
Well, of course you have some strong opinion about acronyms. Well, I think I do, because I. Let me let me take a moment. Please.
Please do. Well, first of all, like, it’s a very insular thing.
It’s like to think that I do it sometimes when I hate myself or because it’s like nobody else knows what that is like on this year, IBM or the IRS, like, you know.
Right. What is that?
And it doesn’t really you don’t you don’t capture sort of the essence of who you are. You work really hard on that branding. And the other thing is it’s jargon. Any kind of jargon, I think, puts up walls between you and the other. So it creates this kind of tribalism in a bad way that I think I just I think I do have a strong opinion.
You know, you have a strong opinion about a lot of things.
I will I would have instead then by saying anything else about good growth, capital tech entrepreneurs should come and approach you, especially awesome people who are going to change the world through science.
Yeah, they should come find you. Yeah, absolutely. You can do me on on Twitter or on LinkedIn. You know, Kristzina Hollywood that weirdly in the middle of it. So.
Yeah. Right. So OK so then great. So we don’t need to do anything. Exasperated. Yeah that’s OK. Enough of that GGC out the door. OK, here’s what I wanted to, to wrap up those.
You said something at the beginning and I wasn’t listening hard enough, but something about mentorship and deep mentoring, something like that. But you and I were at the beach on Sunday and I asked you about a mentor of yours and what you learned from him.
And you said to do everything with Grace. And I was like, oh, I’ve been thinking about that since. Yeah. What does that journalism. Yep. Greece. And what does that mean to you.
So, yeah, Woody Flowers. He was amazing.
And he was here with Dean Kamen, founded First Robotics and he was my undergraduate mentor to MIT and he was also the professor for the class which was called, which is 270 everything at MIT numbers.
Speaking of like it’s worse than acronyms, um he just passed away this winter and actually no it’s like the October 11th will be the one year anniversary.
So he had made such an impact on me. He was one of my mentors.
I’m lucky to have had many really amazing mentors and I think mentors of the kind of people who really will they believe in you. They will stick their neck out for you. They will make connections for you. They will see where you fit in in the world and help open doors for you.
And they really do put their kind of reputation on the line for you. And he did that. He also just filled my brain with all sorts of amazing things. So the first one is gracious professionalism. That’s probably the thing he’s the most well known for. And it’s just the philosophy behind first robotics. And the idea is like. You don’t have to win, but you should definitely, you know, whatever you do, make sure you do it with grace.
And that was really important.
I I’ve been thinking about it a ton. I struggle. Here’s where I struggle. Sometimes it’s advocating for myself. Feels like it’s not graceful or something for me.
And it feels like I’m being pushy. Mm hmm. And maybe this is just my.
No, I know exactly what you mean.
And you know what I think part of the challenge this is like going now we’re getting deeper into the L.A. thing, but there’s different cultures in different cities and in different subcultures within cities. Right. And I think I lived for 20 years in Boston and in New England you never to your own horn, you kind of wait for other people to recognize you and you know, and they do, because that’s the way it works.
And in L.A., it’s a very different culture. And so that’s probably one of the things I’d say that and the very transactional nature of a lot of folks, especially Hollywood, like it’s driven in the Hollywood sector, everything’s transactional. And so I think those are things that we have to get past in L.A. in order to really be truly a great community.
It’s a great thought to to leave on and sort of reflect on.
So I wish you a lot endless gracious professionalism in your future endeavors. Thanks so much for coming on the show.
Thanks. It was so much fun.
I mean, what I did say also was like when I first was like, hey, I start a podcast. You were the first person I called, remember? Like, I remember where I was when I was talking to you about it.
I remember where I was when you were talking to me about it. I was parked outside the L.A. Clippers, I think. I don’t know why I remember that.